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Rising tide of shoplifting threatens Sooke businesses

Collaboration between businesses, police, and community urged to stem the tide of theft
Shoplifting in Sooke has reached epidemic proportions, with store managers reporting a surge in both the frequency of incidents and the value of stolen merchandise. (Photo courtesy of West Shore RCMP)

Shoplifting in Sooke has reached epidemic proportions, with store managers reporting a surge in both the frequency of incidents and the value of stolen merchandise.

“There’s been a noticeable uptick in the last couple of years,” said Jeff Stewart, manager of the Western Foods in Sooke. “We catch an average of three to five shoplifters a day.”

Although Stewart believes that coincides partly with the rise in Sooke’s homeless population because some of the store’s prolific, repeat shoplifters belong to this group, he said they do not solely drive theft.

“We catch people of all demographics all the time,” Stewart said. “The RCMP are beneficial with our prolific offenders, but our staff time is wasted with the constant monitoring, confrontations, and collection of security footage to allow the RCMP to follow up.

“Just getting the product back seems like a minor victory. The bottom line is that the cost of theft is just another factor driving up the cost of groceries.”

Staff Sgt. Greg Willcocks, head of the Sooke RCMP detachment, said part of the problem is that businesses underreport shoplifting.

“We had 20 complaints in 2023, and we know there’s a lot more shoplifting and smaller thefts than what’s reported to police,” he said. “The biggest obstacle is people don’t think anything will be done, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

When police charge someone for shoplifting, the offender can potentially be put under court conditions to not go back into that store, Willcocks said.

“The maximum penalty for breaking those conditions is up to two years in jail,” he said. “That underlines the importance of businesses reporting shoplifting if they have repeat offenders because we can put a stop to that.”

Willcocks encourages people to call the police immediately on the non-emergency line at 250-642-5241 when dealing with a shoplifter because confronting them could escalate the situation.

Deb Schenk, executive director of the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce, said shoplifting has increased significantly in the past year, and some small businesses in Sooke have expressed apprehension about confronting suspected shoplifters, fearing verbal or physical abuse.

“We understand the growing concerns surrounding shoplifting, a prevalent issue in today’s society, even in smaller communities like ours,” Schenk said. “We have engaged with local businesses to gather insights into their experience and concerns to address the challenges they face and explore effective preventive measures.”

Some measures include promoting community participation in local business initiatives to create a supportive network to discourage criminal activities and implementing educational campaigns to raise awareness about the consequences of shoplifting through community events, social media, and collaboration with local schools.

Another measure involves fostering strong communication between businesses and law enforcement to enhance understanding of local crime trends and coordinate preventive efforts through regular meetings and updates.

“Establishing a discreet support network among local businesses for sharing information about suspicious activities or known shoplifters can lead to more effective preventive measures and a safer business environment,” Schenk said.

The chamber also encourages businesses to invest in enhanced surveillance measures to deter theft and improve their defense against it.

Sooke Home Hardware store manager Terry Eriksen said theft takes away from customer service because more time is spent on inventory.

“Every dollar stolen from our company costs the company $5 and has an effect on the economy of Sooke and what the businesses can give back,” she said.

ALSO READ: West Shore RCMP arrest 27 for alleged shoplifting over 6-week period

About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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